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Congressman Touts Shaved Golden Retriever for First Dog

There's been no shortage of advice at the annual gathering of allergists here in Washington when it comes to the Obama family's hunt for a hypoallergenic First Dog.

The pressing issue of the would-be first pooch has dominated hallway and cocktail conversation during the five-day meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, which ends today.

The doctors have varying opinions on what breed the Obamas should choose in light of eldest daughter Malia's allergies, but they all agree: there is no such thing as an allergy-free dog.

Sarah Palin
Rep. Steve Kagen, an allergist from Appleton, Wisc., home of Harry Houdini and Joe McCarthy, suggests the Obamas get a shaved Golden Retriever. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

"There is a hypoallergenic dog. It's called a cat," jokes Rep. Steve Kagen (D-Wis.), an allergist who was elected to Congress in 2006.

We ran into Kagen at an after-party for the allergists (wild times) on Saturday night, where, oddly enough, the Sleuth was invited, too. Not one of the physicians there, including Kagen and the co-host of the party, top allergy specialist Daniel Ein, believed any dog is truly hypoallergenic.

"'Hypoallergenic' is a relative term," Ein explained further in an email Monday. "It means that it is less allergenic, not non-allergenic. So the safest dog is no dog; next safest, a stuffed dog; and then, someone else's dog."

But given that the Obamas are clearly intent on getting their own living, slobbering, panting dog regardless of the household allergy issues - Dad promised, after all - Kagen has a very strong opinion of what type of dog it should be.

"If you're going to get a dog, get a real dog. And the dog I love best is a golden retriever," Kagen told us, regaling us with stories of his beloved late golden retriever, Champ.

Kagen even shared his unsolicited and biased opinion with first lady Michelle Obama on Inauguration Day before the start of the swearing-in ceremony. "Get a golden retriever and shave it," Kagen says he told Mrs. Obama, who, according to the congressman, hasn't come back to him for more advice.

And Kagen is serious. He really believes a shaved Golden Retriever would be the ideal dog for the Obamas - better than a goldendoodle, poodle, labradoodle, Wheaten terrier or other allegedly non-shedding designer dog that has been mentioned as a viable White House canine.

"It's not a joke," he says. A close-cropped cut would reduce dander, which, besides saliva, is one of the main sources of dog allergens.

For those of you who are understandably worried about this prospect, Kagen doesn't mean the First Dog would be shaved bald. No Goldenbaldy. He's talking about a very short crew cut, a respectable look that any first daughter would be proud to walk around the South Lawn.

"Champ loved it," says Kagen of his own dog's haircut. (Champ, incidentally, died of cancer from eating a poisonous weed killer.)

In her last interview on the subject, with People magazine, the first lady said her family was "leaning" toward adopting a Portuguese water dog, and sometime in April.

Better hurry, Dr. Kagen. The window for lobbying is closing fast.

By Mary Ann Akers  |  March 17, 2009; 1:14 AM ET
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I concur. A golden retriever is the best dog around, hands down. A shaved golden looks quite like a yellow lab, just well behaved.

Posted by: realgrrl | March 17, 2009 6:55 AM | Report abuse

I too love goldens, we have two wonderful ones. Unfortunately, shaving them is no cure for dander, which is skin flakes. I am allergic to lots of things, maybe including dog dander. I have been taking antihistimines since childhood, and I keep wondering why the Obamas don't dispense with the drama and put Malia on them.

Posted by: ctnickel | March 17, 2009 7:49 AM | Report abuse

I'd love to see them adopt a mutt. What a great message they could send.

Posted by: rpvt | March 17, 2009 8:25 AM | Report abuse

I have my Siberian Husky shaved every three months. The first time, she acted a little weird, but now she seems to love it after a shave. She's friskier. Goldens are great dogs, but, after having a Husky, that would be my choice.

Posted by: ncarv | March 17, 2009 8:55 AM | Report abuse

rpvt is absolutely right. It should be a mutt. After all, didn't "The One" describe "Himself" as a mutt during the campaign? So a doggie mutt would be a true reflection of B.O.'s White House. One can only "hope" ;-)

Posted by: segeny | March 17, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

I agree it might be easier to put Malia Obama on one of the new generation non-drowsy antihistamines than limit the choice of dogs.

But, along with the First Lady, I do like the Portuguese Water Dog.

Posted by: CharismaticPriest | March 17, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Hey Mary Ann! I have a golden and the vets and groomers all say the last thing you should do to a golden is shave ultimately ruins their coat...hope you're well!

Posted by: ceceliap | March 17, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

My husband has asthma and allergies. We have had no problems with Great Danes. We have had them in our home etc. for years.

They are short haired with little dander and they don't require bathing very often because they don't have oily skin.

Posted by: robertsd | March 17, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

My Golden (my second)enjoys his once a year summer "shave" and his coat has always returned beautifully for 8 years & going. I think a Golden in the White House would be the best!

Posted by: fbrooks1 | March 17, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Don't get me wrong, I love dogs. But does anybody else find it ridiculous how much attention is being given to something so trivial? Billions of people throughout the developing world are dying of easily treatable diseases, suffering from hunger and lack of clean water, while we spend time discussing the white house pet!

I challenge you, readers, to take a minute or two from pointless "discussions" and contribute to something more meaningful. Learn more at

Posted by: alenka | March 17, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Maybe the dog can help us get our economy back on track. A cute, lighthearted but ultimately pointless piece of news. I can't help but feel like while we've got huge issues on the table everyone would prefer to escape into pieces like these, rather than deal with the problems at hand.

Hopefully we can turn this economy around and actually focus on solving the deeper, systemic issues for why we're in this situation. Obviously bad banking's a good place to start, but there are other issues, like global poverty, that have huge economic and geopolitical ramifications.

The Borgen Project ( has some interesting insight into addressing the issues of global poverty, something we can remedy easily and sustainably.

Some interesting figures to ponder:
$30 billion USD: The annual shortfall to end global poverty.
$550 billion USD: The annual US defense budget.

Posted by: concernedcitizen1111 | March 17, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

A black Lab--a dog of the people--is the way to go. With fountains, stray cats and limos, Washington would be its photo op. Oh yes, and give it a very original, easy-to-spell name. Blackie. Or Snowball if the First Family are into litotes.

Posted by: KinkyHogmire | March 18, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

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